How digital and mobile are changing subscriptions ten trends to watch

What’s the impact of digital and in particular mobile on subscriptions?  At the Dovetail conference on 24 Jan a range of experts shared their thoughts on the outlook for digital publishing, including some early insights from the subscriber research.  Here’s the main trends to watch over the next year.

1.     Polarisation of sectors & brand competition

It’s a tough economic environment for magazine publishers, but some sectors will thrive, according to Enders Analysis.  Magazines will polarise around luxury, specialist, free, and pop-up or short life-cycle topics. But publishers must watch out for competition from brands, even in specialist niches.  For example , guitar enthusiasts spend 30 mins reading an issue of Fender magazine.

2.     The power of data to develop products

Publishers should watch data on users to work out their product development, said David Reed, Editor of DataIQ magazine.  Successful businesses will analyse transactional data, and run controlled experiments.  Publishers must demonstrate to readers the benefits of providing more profile information, eg receiving more tailored content.

3.     PDF Replicas are a transitional phase

While most publishers have PDF replicas now, they are not an ideal way to use the tablet medium.  As devices proliferate, including large-screen phones and small tablets, they will work less well.  Dovetail research shows that readers like the convenience of digital magazines, ie portability and instant access, but the reading experience compares poorly to print, which perhaps reinforces the expectation of a discount.  Publishers will need to find new ways to present their content attractively on different devices.

4.     Digital mags used for experimentation

However, readers find digital mags ideal for experimentation – readers use them to try out new mags and this creates opportunities for publishers for back issues and international sales.  Readers with both print and digital subscriptions spend 5 hours a week reading, typically 30-45mins per title.

5.     Bundles becoming more complex

Publishers now have to communicate far more complex bundle options to readers.  Most still choose print:  Dovetail found that for new bundle launches, 73% were print only, 20% both and 7%  digital only.

6.     Marketing has to be multi-channel

Top marketing channels for digital magazines are publisher mailings, Apple Newsstand and publisher websites, followed by search and digital newsstands.

7.     High customer service requirement

Readers are still working out how to use digital mags, and Dovetail have discovered that customer service on digital subscriptions can generate 10x as many emails and calls as print.  So that means high service costs for publishers on lower revenues.

8.     Ecommerce is opportunity for magazines, but competitive

Magazines have advantages in moving to ecommerce as they have great content and authority, and help readers discover products…..but retailers are becoming publishers, so this is increasingly competitive

9.     Tablets now mainstream, but use multiple devices

Already 30% of the core 25-44 age group have tablets, according to YouGov, and 58% of the surveyed Dovetail subscribers own tablets, principally iPad and Kindle.  Digital mag readers use on average 1.9 devices to access content, with laptop, desktop and phone almost as popular as tablets.

10. Future still needs to be invented

According to Luca Forlin of Google, digital magazines will have to evolve very quickly.  Users are super social and are leading change, wanting to interact with their favourite content anywhere & on any device.   Interactions and user content will be more important for publishers: non-social brands will become irrelevant.

About the author: Carolyn Morgan works with niche publishers to develop practical digital strategies.  She regularly speaks and writes on digital publishing strategy, programmes the Specialist Media Conference and moderates the Specialist Media Network on LinkedIn, where over 1200 niche publishers swap ideas and network.  If you’d like a no obligation discussion about how to develop your digital publishing strategy, please get in touch.

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Save the date for the 2013 Specialist Media Conference, taking place at the British Library on 24 April 2013, for a day of inspiration from innovative specialist media people.